Apparently with no sense of irony whatever, our local Conservatives have issued a leaflet which says boldly “Vote Conservative to save Kent and Canterbury Hospital”. Now it surely cannot have escaped whoever wrote this that the Conservatives have been in control of both national Government and County Council since 2010, and that our cherished K&C is gradually being dismembered as it faces a funding crisis, along with the rest of the NHS. So it seems the height of contempt for the voters to assume that such a message will be believed by anyone at all: you may as well ask people to believe that £350 million a week will be flowing into the NHS as soon as we leave the EU. Oh well.
It doesn’t merely annoy me that some politicians hold the electorate in such low regard as to think they will be taken in by claims like this. After all, I’m old enough to know that at election times a truck load, rather than a pinch, of salt is required when we listen to political promises. Claims like this, though, which fly in the face of every shred of evidence, make me wonder about the basic competence of the people we are being asked to vote for and whether they are in touch with reality at all. I’ve known a few MPs over the years, and they always seemed to me to be fundamentally decent, usually hard-working, and concerned to do the best for their constituents. The same applies, by the way, to most city and county councillors. Most MPs are not usually so divorced from reality as to make ridiculous claims like this. After all, since 2010 there has been a 14% cut in real terms funding for the NHS, its staff have had eight years of effective pay cuts as their meagre 1% rises lags behind inflation, and the Government’s bull in a china shop approach to Brexit has led to record numbers of non-UK national NHS staff quitting to go home. That combination, which is entirely the responsibility of the Government, is at the heart of the funding and staffing crisis which directly leads to the closure of key functions at the K&C. As I remind people, if you take decisions and approve actions which have entirely foreseeable consequences, and especially if you had that pointed out to you, when those consequences then happen you can’t simply go round claiming not to be responsible. So perhaps the leaflet would be more accurate if it said: “Vote Conservative to close Kent and Canterbury hospital”.
All this brought me to thinking about the difference between response to the 2008 banking crisis and the current state of the NHS. When the banks began to fail through a combination of executive greed, ignorance and non-existent regulatory supervision, it was deemed by the Labour government, supported by the other main parties, that the banks were “too big” to be allowed to fail. Labour and the later Conservative/Lib Dem coalition committed over £1,100 billion to supporting the banks. The NHS budget by contrast is £140 billion a year, and according to the Office for Budget Responsibility and the King’s Fund it needs an extra £18 billion to return to the funding levels of 2010 and to meet current demand. That £18 billion is just under 2% of what was set aside to save the Banks. Christopher Hitchens once described this unbalanced approach to saving the banks at everyone else’s expense as “socialism for the rich, and free enterprise for the rest”.
So please compare and contrast our Government’s approach: banks, which are supposedly part of a business system which rewards success and penalises failure, were rescued and almost no-one who owned or ran them suffered, even while the savings, jobs, financial secruity and homes of ordinary people were forfeit. The NHS, by contrast, has been punished even though it has done no wrong, by having its real terms income slashed, its staff underpaid, its support and specialist services privatised, and its facilities closed leaving patients at best inconvenienced or at worst at risk to their health and life. It seems that for this Government the NHS, unlike the banks, is not too big to fail. So, when you cast your ballot in the elections, you might consider whether there are better ways to support the Kent and Canterbury Hospital than that proposed by the Conservatives